Spiritual classics for prayerful reading

By on December 1, 1998

THE OVER-ARCHING theme of this new series could come from the first words of The Imitation of Christ: “‘Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness,’ says the Lord.” These spiritual classics, say the editors, respond to a perceived need for prayerful reading. The set would make a fine gift, a single copy a happy stocking stuffer. [pullquote]”The darkest shadows of skepticism and unbelief, which have eclipsed the presence of the divine in our rational age, are beginning to lighten and part. If the power and presence of God are real and effective, what do they mean for human experience?”

What better answer than the testimony of people across the centuries who can become “our companions, even our champions,” in a common effort to discern the meaning of God in personal experience. Each of the first four books chosen for the series is truly a classic of Christian spirituality. In addition to an authoritative, recent translation and introduction, each volume features a specially-commissioned preface by a well-known contemporary spiritual commentator. Each makes a distinctive contribution to life in the spirit; each bridges the centuries to make the wisdom of the ages relevant to our own times. The Imitation of Christ has inspired generations of Christians to locate eternal truths in the midst of worldly distraction as it movingly and explicitly described the Christian ideal. The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi is a memoir by his followers of the man whose ecstatic embrace of a life of poverty revolutionized Christianity and transformed the ethics of the West. The Desert Fathers introduces the stories and sayings of these fourth-century pioneers of the contemplative life who withdrew to the desert in search of liberation from both a corrupt society and the confining shell of the social self. The Rule of St. Benedict for centuries has been a guide for religious communities, but also can be a model for anyone who wants to live more simply, offering help towards peace and fulfilment at home and work. These books are not intended to be read in our 20th-century way of scanning to extract immediately useful information or following a plot line to a denouement. Rather, as the editors suggest, a return to the 4th-century style of divine or spiritual reading is called for – “a meditative approach by which the reader seeks to taste and savour the beauty and truth of every phrase and passage.”

William Portman is book review editor for the Anglican Journal.

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